I've noticed a remarkable phenomenon. As a functional/integrative medicine specialist, a lot of women come to me wanting to get a handle on their weight. Yet few women say that they want to lose weight primarily to look better. Of course that's a part of it, but interestingly, most women say that what they really want is to feel more in control of their eating habits.
The bottom line is that food is not pleasurable for a great many women – including those who are slim and full-bodied alike. Eating is fraught with confusion, guilt, regret, negative self-talk, and hamster wheel dieting. Women are in a food battle replete with restrictions and diets, binges and purges – whether through fasts, intensive exercise, frequent saunas, and even laxatives, enemas, and behaviors potentially on the level of an eating disorder.
Many women face the struggles known well to addicts trying hard to kick a habit – and in fact, as I discussed in my article Food Addictions: Why They’re Not Your Fault, Why You’re Not a Bad Girl for Having Them, and 7 Ways To Kiss Them Goodbye!, food addictions are a real struggle for many of us.
Yet a good relationship with food is central to health. Our relationship with food is the trigger for the food choices we make – not just what we eat, but how and why we eat.
Eating pleasure is also paramount to excellent digestion. In a sense, our food should “turn us on” – that is, get our digestive juices flowing! I wrote about this in How to Love Eating! 5 Mindfulness Tips for Healing Your Relationship with Food. Joy and well-being also keep our nervous systems humming along, which in turn keeps our immune system healthy. This means less inflammation, fewer aches and pains, fewer headaches, colds, and easier periods if you're still cycling. It also means fewer heart attacks and strokes which are big killers of women. So it's not just the actual nutrition that foods give our body that prevents heart disease, cancer, and diabetes – it's our experience of food, as well, that is so important.
I rarely approach a woman's weight concerns from a “lose weight” perspective – we know that for most women, “dieting” doesn't really work, at least not sustainably. I work with my patients to heal their relationships with food and help them learn to make healthy food choices. This often means healing their relationship with their self-esteem, and may even require digging deep into the origins of food and eating dysfunction. Food issues run deep in many women's memories.
Below you will find some of my favorite resources and tips on food, mindful eating, and healing. I welcome you to take part in a veritable feast of food and healing inspiration.
1. Food & Spirit: Deanna Minich is committed to helping you to nourish your root. Food & Spirit takes nutrition into the realm of “complete” nourishment, feeding your inner and outer landscapes. She offers a free blog as well as courses for professionals and regular folks.
2. Tip: Shift out of Autopilot Eating: Ever eaten and not even remembered that you chewed your food? Make your next dinner a mindful occasion. Turn off the TV. Put away your pile of paperwork and even the newspaper. Eat with attention to the taste of food. To the textures. The those who grew, harvested, sold, and prepared the food so that it could be on your plate. Appreciate your food. Enjoy.
3. Stop Sugar Addiction: My pal and colleague Dr. Mark Hyman learned to overcome his own sugar addiction and has helped thousands of others do the same. His book The Blood Sugar Solution is a great guide to healthful eating (and safe weight loss for health promotion).
3. Dr. Susan Albers says that “Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It is being more aware of your eating habits, the sensations you experience when you eat, and the thoughts and emotions that you have about food. It is more about how you eat than what you eat.” I love her accessible website Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, with plenty of free tools including fun and motivational posters.
4. Mindful Eating as Food for Thought is a solid piece on mindful eating resources. If you like the New York Times writing style, you'll find this a good read.
5. Walter Willett is one of my favorite nutrition writers – in fact, he's one of the most prolific nutrition scientists in the world. He demystifies food choices and reminds us that food = health = pleasure in his Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy.
6. Not a book on food or eating in the least, but a book on healing anxiety and getting our minds in harmony, Mind Whispering by Tara Bennett-Goleman is a beautiful read if you are on a journey to heal your relationship with yourself, whether around eating or anything else. I highly recommend reading it before bed for a restful sleep.
7. Ok, I'll admit it, I haven't read this one yet, but with an author duo like Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung who is an incredible woman, mother, nutrition scientist, and one of Walter Willett's research partners, how can you go wrong? And the title is Savor which is what I believe we should be doing with food – and life – so it's high on my next read list.
8. “The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. No matter how sophisticated or wise or enlightened you believe you are, how you eat tells all. The world is on your plate. When you begin to understand what prompts you to use food as a way to numb or distract yourself, the process takes you deeper into realms of spirit and to the bright center of your own life. Rather than getting rid of or instantly changing your conflicted relationship with food…it is about welcoming what is already here, and contacting the part of yourself that is already whole – divinity itself.” ~ Geneen Roth
9. It's not an accident that we struggle with food addictions. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us isn't necessarily news, but it'll get you in the fighting spirit, as in “Hell no, You ain't controlling this body of mine!” The book is worth reading but if you're on a money or time budget, the article You Really Can't Eat Just One covers the salient points.
10. With books liked Cooked, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food Michael Pollan gets you in touch with nourishment as something that has to do with home, hearths, earth, nature – it puts food into our hands – and this is part of reestablishing healthy relationships: food in our kitchens, in our pots, in our gardens when we can, even if it's some potted herbs in a city windowsill. Read and be nourished. And you can even just google Michael Pollan – you'll find plenty of free articles for your reading pleasure!
“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us be much more than what we are.” ~ Adelle Davis
“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” ~ Rashaski Zen Proverb
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~ Virginia Woolf
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With wishes for your deepest well-being and nourishment,